Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, bond and mill levy funds and programs continue to provide essential support.
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in changes and adjustments to bond and mill levy-related work in DPS. The challenging circumstances presented by stay-at-home orders and the cancellation of the remaining school year have meant adapting to virtual meetings, implementing social distancing protocols on construction sites, supporting DPS’s small business partners, and helping schools and families adjust to remote learning. A few examples of important work that has continued in an unprecedented time:
Community Planning and Advisory Committee Meetings
The 76 members of the CPAC began meeting in person in January. Meetings were moved to Zoom in mid-March, as the group of teachers, parents, students and community members examined needs across the district and prepared recommendations for future bond and mill levy funding. Subcommittees determined bond funding priorities in the areas of school capacity, technology, safety, maintenance and mill levy funding for areas such as nursing and mental health supports. CPAC will present their final set of funding recommendations to the Board of Education on June 8.
With the sudden economic downturn leading to inevitable 2020-21 budget cuts, the possibility of a bond measure and mill levy override on the November 2020 ballot is more crucial than ever. Approval by Denver voters could mean additional funds for school nurses and mental health providers, air conditioning in more schools, expanded capacity in crowded parts of the city, improved technology for schools and students, and much more.
Chromebooks to support remote learning
When it was announced that schools would not be reopening after spring break, a remote learning plan was established to support continued student learning and provide a meaningful connection to teachers. The district distributed 57,000 Chromebooks and 2,600 wifi hotspots to any student who needed one. 9,000 of those Chromebooks were funded by 2016 bond funds set aside for technology.
Kristy Firebaugh, a parent of a second-grader at Edison Elementary, reported that remote learning was a success, despite the challenges presented to all families who had to make the quick transition to learning and working at home. “We were grateful to be able to borrow a Chromebook from Edison…Lea was already familiar with how it works from using them in school, so the transition to learning at home was pretty smooth. Her daughter, Lea, agrees: “I think this Chromebook is really helpful because it shows you all the assignments. Every morning we get to say hi to each other and we have a question of the day which I really enjoy…I like specials because in music we can make an instrument with instructions from Ms. O’Lane.”
Ongoing School Construction
With construction deemed an essential business throughout the state’s stay-at-home order, most school improvement and expansion projects continued with significant social distancing and safety measures in place. 2016 bond dollars are funding several of these projects, which will result in significant improvements for staff and students when they return to school. These bond-funded projects include major additions at the shared campus of Northfield High School and DSST: Conservatory Green. The Kepner campus in southwest Denver is also receiving some significant improvements, including classroom cooling, new hallway flooring and lighting, and a bathroom remodel that now meets ADA requirements.
Support for Small Businesses
As small businesses have been especially impacted during the COVID-19 crisis, the DPS Office of Business Diversity (OBD) has been focusing efforts on helping vendor partners. Approximately 30% of DPS vendors are small, minority, and/or women-owned businesses, and are among the most vulnerable businesses during the sudden economic slowdown. While collaborating alongside other Denver-area chamber of commerce partners to provide added support, OBD also compiled and distributed a directory of city, state and federal resources to over 700 local business partners in March. As essential construction projects continued, local small businesses like commercial flooring company Gary Leimer Inc were able to complete previously planned projects and keep their workers employed. “Allowing Gary Leimer Inc to work on DPS commercial flooring systems has also allowed smaller partner companies to earn a living in the flooring trade,” said Gabe Sandoval, a Business Development employee at the company. “DPS is a champion here.”
COVID-19 has changed education as we know it. The improvements and tools made possible by the 2016 bond have been crucial as we continue adjusting to a new way of living. Looming budget cuts and future needs in the areas of classroom improvements, health services, and remote learning are all part of the conversation as DPS considers asking voters to approve a 2020 bond and mill levy.